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No matter your space, there’s room for growing edibles in containers

  • Fay Mark
  • Tired of paying for a bunch of parsley, sage, or thyme when you need a tablespoon for a recipe, only to watch the remainder of the bunch be thrown into the green waste? Whether you live in a large or small space, edible container gardening has many benefits. A few strategically placed containers overflowing with seasonal edibles can add interest to your patio, porch or deck and put food on your table. Even if you already have a vegetable garden, you may want some vegetables and herbs to be closer to your kitchen and containers are a great way to achieve that goal.

    How do I get started? Let’s start with the container. A suitable container holds the necessary amount of soil and allows the water to drain. If your container does not have drainage holes, grab a drill and add several in the bottom of the container, then place fine mesh screening material over those holes to allow the water to drain while retaining the soil in the container. Consider the size of the container relative to the size of the plant. Edibles like onions, carrots and potatoes grow below the soil and need a deeper container than herbs that grow above the soil. Also consider the height and girth size of your edible at maturity.

    If you have a large container, be sure to place it where you want it before you fill it with soil. And speaking of location, what are the needs of your edible plant? Does it need full or partial sun or shade? Is it exposed to wind, salty air, dry air, animals? Most vegetable plants need four to five hours of sunlight a day. Be sure to watch the movement of the sun across your property and watch out for unexpected shade due to a large tree or building.

    Soil and water are probably the most important factors in successfully growing edibles in containers. The soil should be a mixture of light, porous and quick-draining materials. These types of materials retain moisture while providing air space for the roots. The amount of water you give a plant will determine its health. Too much water or too little will damage the roots and discourage necessary water and nutrient absorption. Check the moisture of your soil surrounding the roots by feeling 1 inch down into the soil. Think Goldilocks, the moisture of the roots should be just right — not too wet, not too dry.

    If your soil is new, and is composed of organic materials, you may not need to add compost or fertilizer for the first year. If you are reusing soil, you can add compost to refresh and improve its nutritional value. Alternatively, time-released fertilizers and water-soluble fertilizers can be added weekly based on individual plant requirements.

    By regularly cleaning out debris and adding compost and mulch, your plants should remain healthy. Be vigilant and keep an eye out for slugs, snails and flying insects. Slugs and snails can be gathered by hand and flying insects will require other methods of removal depending on the type. Check the pest management link at the marinmg.ucanr.edu for pest identification and removal info.

    To everything, turn, turn, there is a season —  so, what can I plant now? Check the “Great Gardening Information” link on the main page of marinmg.ucanr.edu and go to “Backyard to Belly,” a seasonal planting guide with grow sheets for vegetables and fruits.

    Experiment, have fun and enjoy the results!